I recently read that Christians ought to be opposed to hate crime legislation. The argument was that hate crime legislation would be a deterrent to freedom of speech and would impact the issues that Christians hold near and dear. I found myself highly troubled.
First, most obviously, I liked and celebrate freedom of speech. My having freedom of speech enables me to write here, it enables me to have significant conversation, and it enables me to preach freely each Sunday morning. Free speech is something I cherish.
I also believe, however, that Christians need to consistently be opposed to hatred in all forms. One can speak freely and effectively and one can speak forcefully without resorting to hate or hate language.
Sometimes people try to justify hate language by saying that Jesus uses the word 'hate' several times.
Some of the times Jesus was speaking to his disciples and telling them that others were going to hate them because of him. That hate that they were experiencing or going to experience would, one day, lead to their deaths. One cannot say that he was promoting hatred. He was, in fact, proclaiming that many of those who followed him would be victimized by hate.
But there are other passages, such as Luke 14:26:
Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.
Or Luke 16:13:
No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
Jesus uses the word hate in a seemingly very powerful way. However this is part of the joy of dealing with a Bible that has been translated into English from an ancient language, in this case Ancient Greek. Ancient languages, such as Ancient Greek have far fewer words than English does. Greek has three different words for love but uses the same word for brother, sister, cousin, aunt, or uncle. Often, when we read 'love and hate' in the same sentence, we encounter Greek's lack of nuance in differentiation. If I were to ask which kind of ice cream do you like best, vanilla or chocolate, you might say that you like chocolate better. If I asked if you'd eat vanilla you'd probably say yes, but you like chocolate better. In ancient Greek the only way to state this would be that you love chocolate and hate vanilla. You really aren't expressing that you hate vanilla, you prefer chocolate. In these references the language does not clearly express Jesus' point. Sadly many people use the word 'hate' in these passages in an attempt to justify their own usage of hate language.
The thing is this. When Christians try to justify hate they are not behaving as Christians. They are blaming God for their own bad behavior. When we use vicious language towards anyone, in any way, we simply cannot claim that God is speaking through us. Frankly, when we behave like that, our only prayer can be that God is speaking despite of us.
My prayer is that one day there will come a day when we won't ever need to ponder hate crimes because they do not exist.